Every Thought Captive

The Real Enemy

“Pray then like this:
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Matthew 6:9-13

Whether it’s germs, a trap, or the wind, just because something isn’t visible doesn’t mean it’s not impactful. In fact, invisible things often impact visible things in powerful ways. The same principle is true of the Christian life. Scripture teaches us that there is an unseen spiritual realm that is having dramatic effects on each of our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. Paul tells us that there is a spiritual battle going on, not with or against people, but between Satan and forces of evil that fight against God and His people (Ephesians 6:12). Wisdom looks like living in light of this reality. As part of His teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, this is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13a), because there is a real enemy who is really trying to deceive and tempt us.

However, we often do not live in the awareness that there is a spiritual battle taking place every day, which makes us even more vulnerable as the most effective attacks come against those who are not expecting them. In his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” In our context, we tend to lean on the side of not paying enough attention to the realities of spiritual warfare and temptation.

The truth of Scripture is that we have a real enemy who is actively seeking to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8), and he does so progressively through enticing temptations. As someone once told me, he doesn’t tempt us with broccoli but with cake and ice cream. In other words, he uses things that are attractive and appealing, but under the surface, they each are built on lies about God’s character and what He accomplished for us in the gospel. This means that temptations are not just about our behaviors but about our desires.

There are three desire-level (not just behavior-level) temptations that we all face in different ways that I want to briefly mention here. I encourage you to talk to a friend about where you see these in your life:

(1) The temptation to believe that God is not good: This lie was the essence of the serpent’s original temptation in Genesis 3:1 when he asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” It was an assault on God’s character as he called into question God’s goodness and the truthfulness of His Word. The first sin resulted from Adam and Eve being deceived into believing that God isn’t good, His Word isn’t true, the good life is not found in listening to and obeying Him, and therefore His ways will not ultimately lead to our joy and flourishing. It is the same for us today, as sin can be traced back to not trusting God’s goodness as we seek to satisfy our spiritual thirst for other things (Jeremiah 2:13).

(2) The temptation to live for self: We were created to love God and love others, but sin turns us inward. In Ecclesiastes 2, as Solomon engages in an experiment to find out what in life will truly satisfy him and give him a sense of meaning, he pursues and experiences every type of pleasure and success that humans typically believe will make them happy. At the end of it, his conclusion is that it still left him empty (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11). If you look at the preceding verses, you will notice that the words he repeats over and over again are “I,” “me,” and “myself.” In the same way today, whether it’s in social media, chasing success, or experiencing pleasure, the enemy tempts us away from God by feeding us the lie that life is a story that is all about ourselves and that placing ourselves at the center of the universe will actually satisfy us.

(3) The temptation to abandon and forget the gospel: One of the titles Satan is given is “the accuser” (Revelation 12:10) because one of his chief aims is to accuse God’s people of their sins so that we might not believe in His unconditional love and mercy for sinners. This manifests itself in how we try to present a perfect image to others, hide our weaknesses and flaws, and compare ourselves to one another. To quote Lewis again from The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape counsels his demon protégé Wormwood by stating, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” The enemy wants the good news of the gospel and the beauty of who Jesus is to be kept out of our minds, and by getting us to focus all our attention on ourselves, our sins, and our circumstances, he often does just that.

What do we do about these things? The humbling truth is that we are powerless to withstand temptation and defeat the enemy, and that should create a sense of desperation within each of us. Every single one of us has given to these temptations in different ways. Every one of us has failed to overcome temptation.

The good news of the gospel is that there is someone who succeeded where we fail. In Matthew 4, Jesus was tempted by Satan and yet stood firm and did not give in. Even though He was tempted as we are, His entire life was one of perfect obedience. In the greatest moment of suffering and temptation anyone has ever experienced, He did not walk away from the cross but stayed faithful to the rescue mission He was called to. Why did He do that? Out of flawless obedience to His Father and out of indescribable love for you and me. Paul writes, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). He defeated the enemy, forgives sinners, and covers with His perfect righteousness people like us who fail to stand firm in temptation. As the old hymn says, “Well may the accuser roar, of sins that I have done; I know them all and thousands more, my God He knoweth none.”

And the truth is that only when we get this will we actually have the strength to stand firm in our temptations. The gospel is the ultimate proof that God is good and works for our best interest, even if it doesn’t make sense to us in the moment. The gospel is the ultimate healer of pride and self-focused living because as we see Jesus’ humility, it transforms us into people of humility who respond by loving God and loving others. The gospel is the ultimate weapon against the accuser’s taunts against us for our sins as it fixes our eyes on the beauty of Jesus. The gospel is what transforms our desires as we are shaped by the incomparable worth of Jesus (this is what happens during corporate worship as we are shaped by the worth of someone better than anything the world can throw at us).

Let us end by being encouraged with Hebrews 4:15-16: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

About the Author

Photograph of Will Washington

Will Washington

Ministry Leader of High School

Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Will grew up in Dallas and is a graduate of Highland Park High School, the University of Oklahoma, and Dallas Theological Seminary, where he earned a Masters in Christian Education. Before joining PCPC in 2017, Will served in the youth ministries of several churches, as a counselor and Program Director at T Bar M Sports Camp, as a Bible teacher at Cornerstone Crossroads Academy, and as the Executive Director of Armour Up Ministries. In ministry, his passion is teaching God’s Word in the context of relationships, and seeing Scripture fuel a love for Jesus and His mission in someone’s heart and life. He is also passionate about the Oklahoma Sooners.